Realty Reality: NAR 2018 Homebuyer Survey

The Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers published annually by the National Association of REALTORS® reveals what sources buyers use to find their new homes and whose help they seek when making that all-important purchase.

Bob Hunt
By Bob Hunt

One of the most useful research projects of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is the annual survey of homebuyers and sellers. It is particularly useful because it shows sellers and their agents what works and what sources buyers use to find their new homes.

This is the thirty-seventh year that NAR has conducted an annual survey of those who have purchased and sold homes. The most recent version (2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers) became available in November 2018. The information is based on answers to a 129-question survey mailed to a random sample of 155,250 consumers who purchased a home between July 2017 and June 2018. (Names and addresses were provided by Experian, a company that maintains an extensive database of recent homebuyers derived from county records.) After accounting for undeliverable surveys, there was a 4.6 percent response rate.

In 2017, first-time homebuyers constituted 34 percent of the market. In 2018, the first-time buyer rate was 33 percent. Geographically, the highest percentage of first-time buyers was in the northeast at 45 percent; the lowest was in the west at 29 percent. Over the years the historic norms for the country have been in the 40 percent range. As interest rates continue to crank up, it may be a while until we see such numbers again.

The most useful information for sellers and their agents is to be found in the section on the home search process. While the survey results are not significantly different from those of recent years, the trends continue. For example, this year 83 percent of buyers said that they used the internet frequently during the search process. In 2003, that number was only 42 percent. This past year, 57 percent of buyers said that they frequently used a mobile or tablet application. That is a newer and growing phenomenon. (Three years ago, it was 41 percent.) Sixty-three percent of buyers said that they frequently relied on a real estate agent for information.

Forty-four percent of buyers went to the internet as the first step in the home search process, 17 percent contacted a real estate agent first, and 6 percent began by driving through neighborhoods looking for homes for sale. How can driving around be an option? Half the homes purchased were within 15 miles of the buyers’ previous residence. Interestingly, 7 percent of home buyers began the process by going to a bank or mortgage company.

Buyers use multiple sources of information in the process of looking for a home. Far and away the most-used sources are online websites (93 percent) and real estate agents (86 percent). Mobile or tablet applications (73 percent) have replaced yard signs as the third most-used source of information. Still though, 46 percent of buyers indicate that yard signs are one of their sources of information. Only 13 percent of buyers indicate that they used newspaper ads as an information source. A mere 3 percent said that they garnered information from television.

While there are a lot of intriguing data about the sources of information used by prospective homebuyers, certainly the most relevant has to do with where they actually found the home that they ultimately purchased. This year the information source that was highest in that category (50 percent) was the internet. Agents are second at 28 percent. Note that this is not to say that buyers bought their home through the internet. The typical scenario would be that a consumer sees the home on the internet, and then contacts his or her agent. Eighty-nine percent of those who used the internet to search purchased their home through an agent. The differences in a little more than a decade are fascinating. In 2001, 48 percent of buyers learned about their home through a real estate agent, and only 8 percent found their home on the internet. The times they have changed.

Some things, though, remain persistently the same—or close to it. In 2001, a yard sign was the third most likely source of information leading to the home that was purchased (15 percent). And this year? It is still the third leading source at 7 percent, but this is now the sixth consecutive year in the survey history that it has been lower than double digits. Print media may not be dead, but it has shrunk to insignificance in this arena. In 2001, 7 percent of homebuyers found the home they ultimately purchased through a newspaper ad; in 2018, it was only 1 percent. It has been that way for seven years now. As has been the case for the past ten years, fewer than 1 percent found their home through a home book or magazine.

The 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers shows what works. It is a valuable resource.

Bob Hunt is a former director of the National Association of REALTORS® and is the author of both Ethics at Work and Real Estate the Ethical Way. A graduate of Princeton with a master’s degree from UCLA in philosophy, Hunt has served as a U.S. Marine, as president of the South Orange County Association of REALTORS® (in 1988), and as a director of the California Association of REALTORS®. His email address is